It’s To Die For

What is so unique about the earliest disciples of Jesus being martyred for their claim Jesus was raised from the dead?  Many believers of various religious systems–Muslims for example–die and commit suicide regularly for what they believe to be true.  Christian apologists arguing for the historicity of the Resurrection use the fact that Jesus’ disciples and subsequent followers allowed themselves to be killed, without recanting their conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Is this line of reasoning valid?  Does the fact that others die willingly for their religious faith undercut the veracity of the argument for the Resurrection?

The most important aspect of this detail is the historical proximity of the disciples to the event.  The disciples were contemporaries of Jesus and the Resurrection event.  They were witnesses to Jesus’ life; witnesses to His death; and claimed to be witnesses of His being alive after having been buried.

If we claim the Resurrection was a story invented by the disciples, we have to also have to claim they died for an event they knew they invented themselves.  Could the disciples have had a big picture concept in mind, dying for a cause of sorts?  I suppose.  But what could that cause possibly be?  Loving your fellow-man; live with integrity perhaps?  Those ideals were most certainly around at that time, they hardly seem worth dying for.  But think about this: what kind of lie could you concoct which would make you be willing to leave your job, family, and most of your friends (this typically happened when a Jew would convert from Judaism in the first century) only to be mocked, tortured, and killed for the lie?  Is there an ideal that you knew was false but would die for it anyway?  Dying for a known lie for the sake of a greater good (honesty, love, integrity) seems to be somewhat self-defeating.

Keep in mind I am not arguing for modern or even 2nd century Christian martyrs as evidence, but rather the first disciples who claimed to be actual witnesses to the events themselves.  Muslims who die in suicide attacks are not first hand witnesses to Allah, or miracles of Allah.  Mohammad did not perform miracles, he claimed only to be a prophet.  Given this aspect of Islam, Mohammad’s cohorts were getting their theological insight second-hand from someone who claimed to speak for God.  They are not in parallel circumstances as the first martyred disciples who claimed to see with their own eyes the events for which they were killed.  Muslims willingly die for what someone told them was true, and in fact they do believe the message of Mohammad is true, but they lack first hand experience of his claims; they could not necessarily have known his claims were false.  Jesus’ disciples claimed to be eye witnesses to the Resurrection, they would be in the position to know their own story was false.

The disciple’s martyrdoms as an evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus is not a case of special pleading since their situation is not entirely analogous to other religious adherents willingness to die for their creeds.  The disciples claimed to be eye-witnesses.*  For the Resurrection to have been an invention of the disciples, they died for what they knew to be false.  Knowing a thing to be false, and believing something to be true which is actually false are wholly different categories.


* By eye-witnesses I am not referring to the Gospel authors, but rather the “inner twelve” apostles, and those multitudes who witnessed Jesus alive after His death, some of which are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15.

Related Article: Yes, But What If…, Objection Overruled


  1. Layla Gonzalez says:

    Mohammed was a pedophile that had a nine year-old wife and was prone to what they now believe to be epileptic seizures. Furthermore, the Bible is clear according to the Apostle Paul when he stated that “even if an Angel of light were to appear to you, but speaks a different gospel than what I tell you, let him be accursed.” [paraphrased] Mohammed claimed he saw an angel of light what seemed to him to be a dream, which is now believed that it was during one of his seizures. He could not read and it was his nine year-old “Jewish” wife that read the Bible to him and he was angry that “his name” was not mentioned in the Bible. After that viola, Islam came into being. His first wife supported him greatly and it was his cousin Ali and others that recorded what is know as The Hadiths, or his sayings. The religion is cursed because it was demonically inspired by the devil – and the devil cannot create anything, he can only take what is here and pervert it. Pathetic. These people are so blind.

    Excellent write-up. I added you to my blogroll.

  2. The disciples’ so-called martyrdom is not evidence of anything as there is no evidence that the martrydom occurred: It could as easily be a hoax or symbolic representation of the extent of faith.

    I will die mystified by the compulsion of some Christians to prove matters of faith. Subjecting faith to proof is evidence of irreconcilable doubt and uncertainty: If one truly believes, then there is no need to introduce logic to doctrine that inherently transcends logic. Doing so borders on blasphemy.

    • Well, then I don’t know what you consider evidence. The historical record reports that the earliest disciples and apostles save John all died as martyrs. I am not sure where you get your information or how you judge credibility, I gather, anything in favor of Christianity is not credible and is therefore thrown out? I dont know.

      Second, as the article above argues, what their martyrdom does prove, is they believed their claims. They made certain claims about seeing Jesus alive again, their willingness to me killed and not recant that claim is evidence they truly believed their own claim. This fact is different religious martyrs, such as Muslims, are acting on what they believe to be true but don’t have the same first hand knowledge of the thing they are dying for in the same way as the apostles. Therein lies the difference.

      • What historical record reports this? What are the sources for these martyrdom stories? Is there any good reason to think that they are anything other than legends?

        • There are records from early historians, check with Google.

          You’d have to offer reasons for thinking they are legend rather than documentation. They are written as a records, not stories.

          • John,

            The account of the of Peter being crucified upside down (which I believe is one of the earlier martyrdom accounts) is first found in the apocryphal Acts of Peter written sometime in the second half of the second century. According to this account, Peter got into trouble for convincing the wives and concubines of certain Roman officials to refrain from sex and live lives of chastity. Even if I accepted this as a historical record (which the church never seems to have done), it doesn’t say that his death had anything to do with his belief in the resurrection

      • There’s no evidence that Jesus existed: The gospels were written between 100 and 400 AD, after Paul. Of the synoptic gospels, Mark was written first, with Luke and Matthew based on Mark. Only John claims divinity for Jesus. There are at least 40 other gospels, discarded for what amounts to Roman political reasons because they treated the accounts of Jesus’ life and miracles as symbolic rather than literal. Start with Elaine Pagels’ Beyond Belief and proceed from there. (Pagels’ title is not an argument for atheism, but rather an exploration of the beginnings of Christian faith and how it become the dominant theology of the Western world.)

        The timing of the belief of the disciples’ claims is irrelevant. Plenty of Germans who died in WW2 believed in Adolf Hitler, which hardly legitimizes the moral authority of Aryanism. The power of Christianity lies not in the disciples’ martyrdom or in whether Jesus pulled a few rabbits out of his cloak, but in his willingness — symbolic or literal — to die for his message of love and redemption.

        • Your entire first paragraph is historically inaccurate, but I’m not going to provide a history lesson here. Perhaps someday I will do an article on the dating of the New Testament. Just briefly though, if Mark and Matthew were first, Luke was a companion of Paul, who’s letters predate the Gospels. Luke was written before Acts, and Acts ends before Paul’s death in the early 60’s. Luke chronicling Paul’s journey surely would have mentioned Paul’s death, as well as the distruction of the temple in 70. Luke had to have been written in late 50’s possibly early 60’s, Matthew before that, and Mark before that being late 40’s early-mid 50’s. John speaks of pools within Jerusalem in the present tense which were destroyed in 70, suggesting that it is quite possible for John to be early as well. Even if we take the latest credible scholar John in written in the 90’s.

          As far as extra-biblical evidence for Jesus existing, theres plenty. No legitimate historian denies Jesus existed, this is nonsense. If you wish to make this claim, you are talking out of your rear relying on some atheist website who has not done their research.

          Pagels is among the most liberal “scholars” in the field and is in no way representative of where the majority of scholars date the Gospels.

          Second, I am not sure how you confuse the issue like this, maybe it’s intentional, maybe not. There were WW2 Nazis who believed Hitlers message to be true, I dont know how many died for those beliefs specifically, apart from being killed in battle. If you have a piece of historical evidence which suggests there were Nazis who were captured and were given the choice between death or renounce Hitler’s ideas, but they chose death over recanting, maybe you have a point. However, even in this case, you are still not on point. The disciples did not allow themselves to be killed for the message Jesus taught, they were killed for claiming He was God and that He was raised from the dead. Peace, love and preaching of redemption was not a crime for which to be given death. No one kills you for suggesting you love your neighbor.

          • I have no idea whether Pagels is reactionary, radical, or somewhere in between. I do know that she is one of the most respected living historians of religion and philosophy, that her credentials are impeccable, and that her books are compelling.

            As to my other point, people die for bad reasons in the belief that they are good reasons all the time. The power of Christianity does not lie in a death cult of martyrdom. If it did, we’d all believe in something else now.

            As for Jesus’ existence, little is known about the actual historical figure, and there is great debate regarding his contemporary intent. What has emerged since then results from thousands of years of Christian thought and the necessity of applying it to the needs and knowledge base of a given time.

            Whether Peter was crucified upside down or not means little. Of greater inspiration — whether it actually happened or not — was that he eventually overcame his human failings at Gesthemane to become the rock of the church. I’m less impressed with whether someone died for their faith than with how they lived for it.

    • No evidence that the martyrdom occured? Why do you say that? Don’t you regard historic evidence as evidence?

      Subjecting faith to proof is evidence of uncertainty? Your worldviews- do you believe it without evidence?

      • This comment was questioning Citizen K, not John Barron.

      • My secular world views are subject to different criteria than my theological perspective. They inform each other, with the latter providing a moral basis. It’s not atypical of Catholicism.

        • Personally, if I did not find Christianity factually true, it would not have provided much of a moral basis for me. If my morality has no logical or evidencial base, I would only have followed it when I felt like it. And someone who only act moral when feeling like it, would be immoral rather more often than someone who have reason to believe his basis is right.

      • Retha,

        Many of the martyrdom traditions can be dated no earlier than Eusebius, who wrote two and a half centuries after the fact. Some of the traditions are first found in apocryphal works like the Acts of Peter or the Acts or Paul which were deemed heretical by the early church. It is not the kind of evidence that historians normally regard as trustworthy.

        • Vinny, your claim is that the evidence exist, but is not trustworthy. That is way more defendable- and reasonable- than a claim that “no evidence exist.” In fact, you disagreed with Citizen K’s claim.

          • Retha,

            Sometimes evidence is so untrustworthy that I think we are justified in saying that there is no evidence. For example, the only evidence we have that Christ made post-resurrection appearances in North America after appearing to the apostles in Palestine is The Book of Mormon. I consider that source sufficiently untrustworthy that I am comfortable saying that we have “no evidence” that Jesus appeared in North America.

            I have not made an in depth study of all the historical sources for the martyrdom of all the apostles, so I cannot make a blanket statement about their trustworthiness, but the sources I have looked at have all been highly problematic. What bothers me even more is that Christians I encounter who make the “no one would die for a lie” argument never seem to have any familiarity with the historical sources for these stories. They simply accept them as unassailable historical facts.

            I think Citizen K. is wrong on a number of specific facts, but I think that those facts could probably be corrected without changing his overall conclusions very much.

  3. Since I am a patriot and a member of my fatherlands armed forces, it is a willing commitment to be ready to die for something. I do not see my country in black and white, I have no Idea if it the best country in the world, or any crap like that, it is ours and to defend its borders is a just cause, if not the most noble in the world. I would see my sacrifice far greater tham my christian countrymen, since they expect their lives to continue after their deaths, even if they would be committing an act of killing a human being while dying, for I am an atheist and only have this one life to give.

    None of the diciples was a doctor even with qualifications of their day. They were countryboys who had most propably not witnessed many crusifictions before their friend and teacher (for the did call Jesus “rabbi”, not son of god) was hang on a cross for few hours. They had no way to determine if he was actually dead or just in a deep coma. They propably had no idea, that such a thing as coma even exists. The crusifiction has been celebrated in at least Mexico and Philippines by actually nailing a person to a cross for a short while. None of these people have died. The executionary measure was meant to last for days before the convict would die. That was the whole point of crusifiction – to kill wery slowly and painfully. So, it is wery likely the apostoles believed he had resurrected, just as it is most likely he did not. It was the way these things would have been explained in their time and area.

    We have numerous eyewittness accounts of the pharaos of Egypt having resurrected. Every 30 years of their reign the pharaos would have to attend the so called sed-feast. He would run from pole to pole in a temple courtyard and priests would record him dying and resurrecting. The likelyhood of the priests having a medical education is much more likely than a shepherd or a fisherman from palestine, but still it is not commonly accepted any more, that the pharaos actually would have died and resurrected. To claim the deaths of the apostoles somehow glorify their claims in comparrison to the claims of the egyptian priests is absurd. A nazi would die for the world wiev Hitler had given him during WWII, but that does not prove any of Hitlers claims true. The egyptian source is far more reliable than the NT, since it was such a common practice for so many generations of pharaos and there are so many contemporary sources of it.

    • I’ll take these one at a time. You dying for your country as a member of the military is not parallel to the disciples situation. At any time the disciples could have renounced their claims and been released. They had no comitment to the movement in the way you have a comitment to your country. The disciples were in a position to know if their claims were true. If you can’t see the difference between dying for your country as part of the military, and the disciples dying for a story they made up, I don’t know where else to go.

      Crucifixions were at that time pretty common, most people had probably seen someone crucified. Given Jesus was severely beaten and nearly mortally wounded prior to being nailed to the cross, 6 or so hours may not be such a short time. The Roman guard stabbed Jesus through the side piercing his heart to make sure he was dead. It wasn’t the disciples who made the pronouncement Jesus had died, it was a Roman soldier who had likely killed dozens if not hundreds of people already. The Romans kew how to kill and it was their job to know when someone was dead. There were consequences to being mistaken. If you believe this happened like you say. What is the evidence you have for believing it? What are your reasons, do you have a writing which offers this explanation? Or are you just supposing? Alternate explanations are not refutations, and your story has no evidence for it, no testimony, not record, it is a story you have made up in order to discount the testimony we do have.

      Please cite the sources for Egyptian Pharoahs resurrecting.

      And you seem to be missing the point of this, the disciples dying does not prove what they wrote or believed was true! So please stop “refuting” that, no one is arguing that you are creating a strawman. What the disciples dying proves is they believed what they wrote was true. Why this is significant is they were in a position to know it was false because they would have been the ones making up the story. No one allows themself to be tortured and killed for some fancy story they invented themselves. People may die for a lie they think is true, but people don’t die for a lie they know is a lie, the disciples would have known it was a lie.

  4. In your article you asked for what a person would be ready die for. I told you for what I am prepared to die for. In my opinion my reason to commit myself is far less than any religious fanatic who believes he is going to live after death. As I pointed out, I think the dicipless actually believed in the resurrection. The fact that they did believe so, does not make it true. But a person who has the chanse of not being killed by refuting his conviction is bordering actually committing suicide. We also call these people fanatics. The difference between fanatics and soldiers is the slight chance the soldier thinks he has to survive. Suicide is a terrible sin to many christians. Do you think it is? Did the fanatic apostoles commit suicide?

    Yes, it is within reason that Jesus died as a result of violence and a finally by the spear of the roman soldier. But since we have an eyewittness account that he was alive afterwards, it leads to the natural assumption he did not die. We can argue wether the crusifictions were common or not, but since the diciples were not from Jerusalem, where the roman garrison was and where Pilatus, who was the person able to give this judgement recided, we have no reason to assume any of the diciples had seen crusifictions before the event. Usually the roman soldiers were under orders not to take down convicts from the cross before several days or even weeks, but they did so with Jesus. So, they were actually not interrested in killing Jesus. If it was important for the romans to kill this agitator whose death was asked by the jewish religious leadership, why did they let his cultist followers to take him down before he had suffered his full sentence? Did they take the other two evildoers from the cross because of the storm? Jesus had been humiliated and clearly shown to jewish people that he was no king. Romans had achieved their political intentions. What the story of Pilatus washing his hands tels us, is that he was in no way interrested to kill the agitator. He sentensed Jesus only in order to settle an angry mob. Maybe the romans even wanted to get back at the jewish priests, since they had been used as a political weapon by the clergy. Roman imperial politics were “divide and coquer”. Jesus at large, was an asset to the romans, since they knew this man was not in any way a threat to the empire, but could undermine the wery religious leadership of the jewish nation. Maybe the romans even thought that he might be a son of a god. After all that was not such a strange thought in their panteistic world. Maybe the legionaries or auxiliaries, thought they were playing safe, just in case Jesus was a son of a god, killing him might bring the hatred of that god upon them. The centurion responsible for the execution did say: “Truly he is a son of god.” Maybe the roman soldiery were just bribed, and since their commanding officer had allready shown his lack of interrest to kill Jesus, simply let his cult followers take him down for an ample coin. After his so called resurrection Jesus had no choise but to run for it. If the high priest would have found out, that Jesus was doing his zombie-thing he would have been assasinated for sure. There are several possibilities how the thing might have happened, even without thinking any of the writers of gospels were knowingly lying, that do not require Jesus to be a son of a god or to have actually resurrected. In any case, it requires faith to think Jesus did resurrect, since there was no medical doctor at present to declare him dead. Is religion not all about faith?

    Yes, I am supposing this is how it happened, if it ever even took place. My sources are the same as yours. I have also read some history of the Roman empire and of antiquity in general and studied archaelogy. This is my interpretation of the events described in the gospels. You see, we both are reading an article about a particular UFO sighting. You suppose, that the UFO fanatics who wrote the article are correct and their interpretation of the flying object is accurate because they have no reason to lie and are actually ridiculed for coming out with their version of events. I have read somewhere else, that there was an aiforce experiment going on in the area of the UFO sighting and therefore I have come to a different explanation. We could both be mistaken. My version requires less faith, though. I however am in no way saying the UFO fanatics are lying. What ever they believe to have seen is not necessarily that.

    Fair enough. There are no researchers that I know of, who claim the pharaos resurrected, but the ones that have written about the sed-feast are Rotislav Holthoer and Rolf Grönblom. I do not know if they have published anything about it in the internet, but possibly their books have been also translated in english. Both say that the original hieroglyphic text says the pharao resurrected. There is a reason they do not count the eyewitness of the event as true. It would require an amount of faith in the ancient Egyptian gods to believe the pharaos resurrected. This is why it is not commonly referred to as resurrection, but as the sed-feast. The sed-feast is described in many english sources anyway. Some more precisely than others.

    Yes, the dying of the diciples does prove they believed in their cause, we can agree about that. Fanatically so I might add. My point is that that does not prove anything. It does not make their fanaticism in any significant way different from any other sort of fanaticism. There have been people who have let themselves been killed by a fancy story they invented and fanatically believed in, especially so if they had ample reason to believe in their invented story.

    Some nazis committed suicide after their defeat. Hitler for one. They could have tried to sue for peace at any time after their war had started to go wrong. They did not. They believed to the bitter end in their own lies about being superhuman, and thought they could turn the tide by destroying the jews. It does not prove that the lies they had invented about their superiority or the conspiracy of the jews were in any way true, though they did believe in them to the bitter end. People are wery gifted when they lie to themselves, and with a support of a group believing those same lies, they may become fanatical. Fanatics are ready to die. If you are ready to die when you could escape death easily, you are a fanatic.


  1. […] found an interesting post on the Truth in Religion & Politics blog that asks and answers the […]

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